Feminist Debates on Civilian Women and International Humanitarian Law


Oosterveld, Valerie. 2009. “Feminist Debates on Civilian Women and International Humanitarian Law.” Windsor Yearbook Access to Justice 27 (2): 385–402.

Author: Valerie Oosterveld


International humanitarian law [IHL] provisions address the situation of civilian women caught in armed conflict today, but is this law enough? Feminist commentators have considered this question and have come to differing conclusions. This article considers the resulting debate as to whether female-specific IHL provisions are adequate but underenforced, or inadequate, outdated and in need of revision. One school of thought argues that the main impediment to the protection of female civilians during hostilities is lack of observance of existing IHL. A second school of thought believes that something more fundamental is needed to meet the goal of protecting civilian women during war: revision and reconceptualization of IHL to take into account systematic gender inequality. This article considers the status of this debate within three areas of IHL considered by many to be central legal aspects of the experience of female civilians caught in armed conflict the general non-discrimination provisions, the specific protection for civilian women against sexual violence and the specific protection of pregnant women and mothers. It concludes that, while there has been a vibrant debate within feminist circles on the adequacy of existing IHL provisions, mainstream action has tended to focus on enforcement. This is unfortunate, as it means that certain insights into the impact of deep gender inequalities on conflict have largely been left unexplored.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, International Law, International Humanitarian Law (IHL), Sexual Violence

Year: 2009

© 2023 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at info@genderandsecurity.org.